Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Friday cleared a Rs 300-crore proposal to buy critical equipment for the Indian Army’s Special Forces, but sources say the elite units will continue to lag by a distance from their American and Israeli counterparts.
The plan includes purchase of over 1,100 automatic assault rifles, 1,000 freefall parachutes, sniper rifles, machine guns and lightweight rocket launchers for the army’s nine battalions of Special Forces troops.
“The army proposal for buying weapon systems under the fast-track procedure was given a go-ahead by the minister at the Defence Acquisition Council meeting and would help the force buy critical equipment such as new automatic rifles, sniper rifles and silencers,” sources said.
The procurement would help the Special Forces get equipment to carry out their task more effectively. But if we compare our troops with the US Navy SEALs or Israeli special operatives, India is behind them by decades in equipment and technology.
“In terms of toughness, we are far better than them. However, it is technology, equipment and thought process where we lag far behind them,” said a Special Forces officer who trained with American soldiers in the US. “When they go for operations, they are backed heavily by drones and satellites to enhance their domain awareness.”
Special operations are treated like a national mission for US and if the troops on ground want, they can call in for a missile or combat aircraft strike on the targets. To meet weapons requirements, the Special Forces have been sanctioned to buy around 20 machine guns from US or Israeli sources.
The newly raised 11 and 12 Para (SF) units were also deployed with normal infantry weapons such as the AK-47 and INSAS rifles to carry out operations in the Northeast and did not even have enough weapons.
SF operatives say during corps and command-level exercises on China border, a senior commander recently asked how deep could they go inside China and the reply was, “as deep as our feet can take us”. The Special Forces have been demanding special platforms like the V-22 Osprey helicopter of the US, which can quietly take small teams in and out of terrain such as Tibet where enemy units are 100-150 kms from Indian boundaries.
“A proposal was moved for buying such a dedicated aircraft but it was shot down at the level of army headquarters itself,” a source from Para Special Forces told Mail Today.
India bought the C-130J special operations aircraft from the US in 2007-08 but they can be used for airdropping para commandos and are not suitable for surgical strikes. “If we compare the SEALs operation where they took out Laden, they silently flew inside the heart of Pakistan and took him out in Special Operations Black Hawk helicopters. We can only boast of Mi-17V5 transport choppers which too are not dedicated for us,” another officer said.
Officers from the Para (SF) say the Americans and the Israelis have their central command for carrying out special operations while the status of the Special Forces units is getting degraded in recent times.”The SF units which were earlier controlled at the Command headquarters level were allotted to lower corps formations where they are used like infantry battalion. This is under-utilisation of such units,” an officer said. The Americans have their Joint Special Operations Command which has all special operatives under it and it deals directly with the US Defence Secretary and President while carrying out any action.
A proposal from the three services to create a SF command is awaiting clearance from the defence ministry.